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Review: Outlawed

Outlawed book cover

Title: Outlawed
Author: Anna North
Genre: Literary Fiction, Dystopian
Page Count: 272
Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing
Date Published: January 5, 2021
You can find it here: Bookshop.org


1894, in a small town in the Powder River Valley, seventeen-year-old Ada’s life is fairly happy. Recently married and helping her midwife mother deliver babies and heal the sick, Ada eagerly awaits the day she too will become a mother. But when one year passes and she still cannot conceive, Ada’s life is in jeopardy, for here barren women are hung as witches.

Escaping her fate at the gallows, Ada joins the Hole in the Wall Gang, a band of outlaws with similar histories. Their leader, known as “The Kid”, is determined to provide a safe refuge for outcast women and dreams of expanding their small group. But to do this, they need capital, and together they hatch a dangerous scheme to rob the bank of a large ranch tycoon – a scheme that will either be their freedom or leave them all dead.

Overall Thoughts

There is much debate over whether Outlawed is dystopian or historical fiction, and I myself was confused. I think where the hangup lies is the misconception that a dystopian novel has to be future based. Apparently, it doesn’t. Anna North’s Outlawed paints a dystopian-esque reimagining of the Western frontier circa the late 19th Century in which barren women were hung as witches. Truth is, most of us buy this as historical fact because, well, humanity is cruel and women were hung as witches for much less … so it can be confusing. Why I belabour this point is because understanding this as dystopian rather than historical fiction really changes the overall perspective and experience of the novel.

For such a small novel, Outlawed packs a mighty punch. It is a gut wrenchingly fierce tale that will hit you in the solar plexus much like a Margaret Atwood story. A gender swapped, reimagined wild Western set around an all girl gang of feminist vigilantes trying to carve justice in a man’s world is everything I’m looking for in my book picks. Anna North writes with a confident pen – never hurried or worried about page count – her story is deliberately told with a slow, steady pace expertly depicting her setting. The inclusion explored here of gender norms, gender identity, sexual preference and race is so wonderfully nestled in this genre that, to my knowledge, hasn’t really explored these topics and makes this such a wholly unique reading experience. My sole complaint is I wanted more from this girl gang – I wanted to know more of each girl’s story and have a clearer picture of each woman. Whether that is enough to draw away from the whole, I’m not entirely sure. Overall, this is a uniquely enjoyable novel for those who like slowly paced narratives and open endings … but I do wish more of my questions had been answered.

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